Image credit: MKFI (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hand grinders are by nature simple and straightforward. They combine the best of manual coffee grinding with the benefits of more advanced grinding mechanics. Simple to use, nearly indestructible, and small enough to go anywhere, they enable you to have that freshly ground cup wherever you find yourself brewing.
Hand grinders are generally just a manual, hand-crank powered burr grinder, almost always of conical burr variety. There are a few things to keep in mind when considering a hand grinder. The first is you need to identify what kind of brew you are going to use the grinder for. Most hand grinders do a great job producing a more course grind, perfect for the french press or other manual brew methods, or even your average drip method. If your target is espresso, however, you will be harder pressed to produce fine enough grounds to properly get the job done. There are a couple of high end hand grinders out there that can achieve a particularly fine grind, but be aware that your choices are limited in this area. Hand grinders are generally cheaper than powered grinders, however be careful – as in most areas of life, you will still get what you pay for when it comes to hand grinders. Lastly, while generally small, you can find hand grinders in a range of sizes and which one you settle on really depends on your intended use. Lets look at some specific models and their optimal uses to illustrate:
For the french press enthusiast, a simple and well made model to consider is the Japanese made Hario Skerton. This little grinder is very well made, and compact enough to be stashed anywhere in the kitchen after each use. Settings can be adjusted for very fine to course grounds, and while some have used this for espresso it is probably more suited to your drip and press brew methods. Be ready to roll up the sleeves though, this takes a bit of cranking to get the grounds out, however most users find they quickly adjust and many even find the process adds an enjoyable ‘Zen’ effect to their coffee making routines.
For situations where you need maximum portability and minimum size, check out the GSI Lexan JavaGrind. This little grinder is very low profile and has a folding handle, making it ideal for camping, road trips, or stashing somewhere for coffee emergencies. It is designed to sit directly on top of the receiving container, typically a french press, and can be a little tricky to master at first. If you need small size though this is a great option, and for outdoor use you can combine it with the GSI Java Press to keep your fresh coffee warm.
No discussion about hand grinders and mills would be complete with out a mention of Zassenhaus. This brand sits among the royalty of hand grinders and for good reason, they have been producing high end grinders for generations. A Zassenhaus will definitely fall among the more expensive of hand grinders, but are also going to produce the most consistant grind and are of the highest build quality. Some Zassenhaus grinders are even capable of producing a fine enough grind to win over espresso enthusiasts, a skill most hand grinders cannot claim. There are a few varieties of Zassenhaus grinders, but our favorites are this classic cast iron and walnut grinder, and this Turkish-style mill.
While hand grinders are not for everyone, they can be a very affordable and long-lasting alternative to many grinders on the market. An added side benefit of the hand grinder is how quiet they are – if you are an early riser in small quarters, the hand grinder is a great alternative to noisy electric grinders. The only thing waking up the rest of the household will be the delicious smell of fresh brewed coffee – happy sipping!